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International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 Women's Rights in Sri Lanka: An inquiry into the Rights of Plantation Women
R. Ramesh,
BA(Hons)Pera, MRDP (Col), Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Peradeniya Susantha Rasnayake,
BA(Hons), MA(Pera), MPhil (reading) Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya Thushara Kamalrathne,
BA(Hons), MPhil (reading) Lecturer, Department of Sociology, University of Peradeniya

The Sri Lankan Constitution of 1978 and the CEDAW1 are two of the most important key contributors to the
promotion of women's rights in Sri Lanka. However, the topic of women's rights has not been given due
recognition during the last few decades in the plantation sector which still continues to provide clear
examples of continual violation of women rights and discrimination against women. Further, poverty,
unremitting toil, domestic violence and all other forms of discrimination are the hard realities of life for
most of the women in plantation areas. Plantation structure and its environs, lack of education, economic
vulnerability, domestic violence, alcoholism rigid management practices of the estate management, and
global market crisis are influencing violating civil, political, economic, socio- cultural rights of the
plantation women. Although Sri Lanka has ratified co-treaties of UN, women in plantation areas are still
been subjected to various women rights violations.

Key words:
Plantation women, Plantation community, women's' rights, violation and discrimination
1. Introduction
Sri Lanka is a developing country in the South Asian region with twenty million multi-ethnic populations. In
the UNDP Human Development Report of 2010, Sri Lanka has been ranked 91 (HDI value 0.58) whereas
India occupies the ranking position of 119 (HDI value 0.519). This reveals that Sri Lanka is far front
compared to India (UNDP, 2010). Although Sri Lanka has achieved relatively high stands of Human
Development, there are considerable concerns about the higher level of poverty, unemployment, and decline
in nutritional status, situation of the illiterate groups and discrimination and violence against women. These
are some of the major obstacles in attaining the expected millennium development goals (Chandrabose &
1 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women International Journal of Arts and Commerce ISSN 1929-7106 Sivapragasam, 2012). The plantation Community is one of the mostly marginalized (Ethnic, cultural,
religious & linguistic) minority groups which is excluded by the mainstream socio- economic developmental
discourse due to the comparatively higher level of the above issues (Sivapragasam, 2005).
Plantation remains an important aspect of agricultural production in many parts of the world (C. Kemp,
Tea and rubber are the principal plantation crops of Sri Lanka. These crops together account for
about 15-20 percent of the cultivated area and employ around 10-12 percent of the Sri Lankan workforce
(Coordinating Secretariat Plantation Area- CSPA, 2002). Approximately, 80% of tea plantation workers are
Tamils of Indian Origin. One half of the plantation workforce is female. The female labour force
participation rate amongst the Tamil plantation workers was 54.3% in 2002 (CSPA, 2002).

In general, women in Sri Lanka have been facing numerous problems and challenges at home, work place
and society for a considerable amount of time due to the entrenched patriarchal cultural norms, reliance on
traditional gender role, gender based division of labour, sexual jealousy, suspicion of women's having extra
marital affairs, alcoholism (Shifani & Seelagama, 2010) etc. Likewise, in the Plantations and its environs,
the women headed families and children undergo an untold hardship and their civil, political, economic,
social and cultural rights, human dignity and healthy atmosphere to work have been faced with serious
challenges. The internal conflicts and systematically practiced political oppression of the successive
governments in Sri Lanka have ultimately resulted in emergence of a variety of women workers and have
given rise to various social issues among them. Particularly, women engaged in tea, rubber and coconut
estates and migrant & garment women workers have been put into immeasurable problems. In the
meantime, the civil war, political oppression and the effects of globalization have placed a direct impact on
women in the plantation areas (Sahadevan, 1995, Philips, 2004).
1.1 Objective of the study
The present study intended to examine the status of women's rights in the Plantation sector in Sri Lanka.
Basically, it focused on examining the means and forms of violating women rights and its consequences.

1.2. Methods and Materials
Both primary and secondary data were used for this study. A large amount of data was collected by Desk
study method using published and unpublished materials in relation to the major theme(s) of the study. In
the meantime, several key interviews and focus group discussions were also conducted in Dickoya and
Bogawanthalwa Estates in the Nuwara Eliya District in order to verify the validity of secondary data.
Twenty five women were selected from each estate and the total sample was fifty. Information was collected
from women civil society activists by means of Key informant interviews. Descriptive analysis method was
employed to analyse primary and secondary data.
2. Status of Women Rights in the Plantation Sector in Sri Lanka
In order to analyze the status of women rights in the plantation sector in Sri Lanka, it is importance to pay
reasonable attention to the aspirations and interests of an interviewed women activist in the plantation
"Women workers within plantations or outside the plantations face various forms of human rights
violations. Especially, sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, alcohol induced violence,
forced rapping at the work place, violation of right to education of girl children for economic purposes at
International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 both work place and the society are still prevailing. Indeed, internationally recognized human rights
instruments or ILO Conventions guaranteeing women rights, are a mirage"2.
Some may argue that the above mentioned incidents of human rights violations encountered by the vast
majority of the plantation women are common phenomenon in the country. However, existing literature
(Chandrabose & Sivapragasam, 2012, Kanapathipillai, 2012, Fontkallnt, 1994) and the field study on which
this paper is based consider women rights violations in the plantation sector as crucial due to a number of
reasons such as the lack of education, awareness, entrenched patriarchal culture, higher degree of alcohol
consumption, economic vulnerability of women and limited access to public institutions. Sri Lanka has
ratified a large number of human rights treaties promulgated by the United Nation. The Sri Lankan
constitution of 1978 contains a bill of rights which incorporates the major provisions of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights. However, at the practical level, norms and the standards of human rights have
become critical issues affecting the country as a whole. Although Sri Lanka has ratified co-treaties on
human rights, People living in the plantation areas have become subjects of various oppressions on the
grounds that they are commonly treated as an Indian Tamil minority group concerning their civil, political,
economic, socio- cultural rights and the right to development. Especially, the colonial British government
and the post-independent local governments have not paid due attention to the development of the plantation
community. The resulting deprivation of citizenship rights have led to greater setback in the socio-economic
development, in particular. Approximately, they were marginalized thirty years in the course of the national
development process until gaining civil and political rights in the late 1970s through legislative enactments
such as Indian and Pakistani Resident Citizenship Act3, Srima –Shasthri Pact (1964), Indo-Ceylon
Agreement Implementation Act4, Grant of Citizenship to Stateless Persons Act5, Grant of Citizenship to
Stateless Persons (special provision) Act6 and Grant of Citizenship to Persons of Indian Origin Act7.
Therefore, the plantation community was not given a space to exercise or enjoy either international human
rights norms or national human rights protections. Avenues were largely restricted in seeking international
remedies through international legal instruments and due to lack of awareness on human rights standards
(Sivapragasam & Chandrabose, 2012). Hence, the general public and the responsible authorities need to be
aware of the fact that international human rights norms are an integral part of Sri Lankan law, and, that there
are a number of worldwide organizations to consider such issues when there are no successful national level
solutions to them8.
Indeed, until relatively recently, the discourse of women's rights and its importance were not prominent in
Sri Lanka due to the impact of globalization and inceptions made by both national and international
agencies. However, even at the present, it can be observed that the recent development of the discourse of
women's right is has not been assigned a key role in the plantation sector of the country. This situation has
resulted in a considerable degree of women's rights violations in the plantation sector. One interview with
the HRA revealed that;
"Women's rights are human rights" is a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka in general, and in the plantation
community in particular. For the last several decades, women's rights did not gain due recognition as human
rights. Even today, there has been reluctance to recognize the concepts of land and resources rights for
2 Focus Group discussion with women workers and women leaders at Dickoya Estate on 12/10/2011 3Act No 03 of 1949 4 Act No 14 of 1967 5 Act No 05 of 1986 6 Act No 39 of 1988 7 Act No 35 of 2003 8An interview with P.P. Sivapragasam, Human Rights Activist, Kandy, 12/20/2011 International Journal of Arts and Commerce ISSN 1929-7106 women, granting them separate legal status and a degree of autonomy in general and it is comparatively
deprived in the plantation sector"9.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the human rights of women and of the
girl-child are on inalienable, integral and indivisible. It further mentions that full and equal participation of
women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural spheres at the national, regional and international
levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination based on sex-gender hierarchies are priority
objectives of the contemporary international community (Logeshwary &Bastian, 2010)
Articles 12 & 14 in the Chapter III of the Constitution (1978) of Sri Lanka are devoted to guaranty equal
rights to women. The ratification of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women (CEDAW -1979) is a milestone in the case of promoting women's rights in Sri Lanka. The
Convention moves beyond guarantees of equal protection before the law in existing legal instruments and
sets out measures for the achievement of equality between men and women, regardless of their material
status, in all aspects of political, economic, social and cultural life. These arrangements are not
pragmatically experienced or enjoyed by the Plantation women (Fontkallnd, 2004)

3. Human Rights Violations and Discriminations against Plantation Women: An evaluation based on
the field survey

3.1. Right to Education for Women

Education is often seen as a means of obtaining employment which in turn facilitates upward social mobility. This is a phenomena which can be equally applied to individuals irrespective of their cast, class, region and ethnic identities (Hettige, Gunawardane, 2000) Further, education in a democratic society benefits everyone and we must ensure that the people are aware of the advantages of education. The term "education" has to be broadened with regard to the functioning of democracy to stress disciplining peoples' minds improving living conditions. Education in this sense enables people to develop skills and acquire knowledge, thereby providing a better understanding of social and physical environment. Although the above arguments generally emphasize the importance of education, the scenario in the plantation sector is quite different. Educationally the plantation people are disadvantaged in comparison with the population as a whole. For example, the national literacy rate of females in 2003/04 was 90.6 per cent but for the female Indian Tamils, it was 74.7 per cent (CFSES, 2003/04)10 and the highest school avoidance rate found in the plantation sector in 2003/04 was 10.2 per cent of the plantation student community above five years of age. They lacked a formal education. The other important feature was the wide sex disparity in school avoidance rates in the plantation sector. The female rate was higher than double value of the rate males11. The above statistical data clearly reveal the educational level of the plantation women. As far as the female literacy rate is concerned, it is clear that there is major setback in the educational attainments of the plantation women due to the continual denial of their right to education based on their subject-position as the children of plantation labourers. Some studies have demonstrated that the educational attainments and school drop-out of female girls in the plantation sector is relatively higher than those of the male population in the same secotr(Chandrasegaran,1999, Kamalrathne & Galahitiyawa, 2010) The following case study elaborates on the violation of right to education due to social causes. 9 Ibid 10 According to the Consumer Finance and Socio Economic survey report of 2003/04 literacy rate of the plantation community was only 76.9%, while the national average was 92.8%. 11 See Compiled Consumer Finance and Socio-Economic Survey Report of 2003/04, Pp 39 14 International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 "Ranjani, 13 years in age, is the eldest of the family. She has two sisters and two brothers. She had to give
up her school education when she was in grade six. Her mother had worked in Dickoya Tea Estate as a tea
plucking women. Her father had also worked as a daily-paid-labourer. Given this condition, their family
income had been low and insufficient for them to survive and continue their daily life. Therefore, Ranjani
'smother had asked her to join in tea plucking works. Such little girls are generally not allowed to work in
the estates. Therefore, she had to informally work in the estate. She had started work weighing tea bags.
Gradually, the employment had negatively affected her school attendance. As a result, she had rarely gone
to school and had to face lot of difficulties in the school. Sometime she had been severely punished by the
teachers because of her regular absenteeism and untidy school work. This had made her feel frustrated and
isolated from other students. As a consequence, this girl had gradually dropped out of school within a
period of six months, though, she liked to go school. As Ranjini herself says: ‘I still like to go to the school
though I feel inconvenience and there!".12
The above case study shows how poverty has become a major reason of the violation of right to education
and the lack of awareness among the parents regarding the importance of education.
In the plantation areas, it is interesting to note that 57.7% of girls aged 5.9 years attended school compared
to 55.8%of the boys in the same age group. However, a drastic decline in female education occurred after
the age of 10; only 49.55% of the girls aged 10-14 attended schools compared to the value of 69. 2% of the
boys. In the age group 15-19, the rate had decreased to 6.7% for girls and 20.8% for boys. Until recently,
literacy aimed educational concerns were considered unnecessary or even undesirable for female children
because a girl's future was seen to be limited to plantation works as a tea plucker or a rubber tapper.
Generally, a female tea plucker has to do domestics works for about 15-17 hours a day (firewood collecting,
care of children, washing clothes, domestic livestock rearing - take up many each day). This is an addition to
the work done in the field. Indeed these is a very small amount of time left for her to maintain social
contacts and other social engagements13. The following statement of a respondent further validates this
A daughter who is old enough takes over some of the work. Because she is a girl, she has to clean the house,
prepare the food, collect firewood and look after the younger children as her mother is tired. This is the
tradition. The girl does all this at the expense of her education14.
In order to fulfill their economic needs, several family members have to work on the estates. Many of the
younger generation, especially females, have to work at the home, needless to say, an unpaid task. The girls,
sometimes boys as well, help their mothers to pluck tea and collect latex. In weeding tea or rubber fields,
children work with other family members. It should also be noted at this point that many young estate
children are employed as domestic servants in other parts of the island, especially during the periods of
economic hardship15.
Health and nutrition are two other important factors which affect education in a number of ways. Low
levels of nutrition lessen resistance to disease, the important point being that nutritional and non-nutritional
environmental factors are closely linked to the general community life in the plantation setting. Anemia is
widespread among women plantation workers in Sri Lanka. Generally the plantation women eat what is left
remain after men and children. For them, this has become an unofficial tradition. Consequently, these
malnourished women usually work exceeding their limits and produce weak children. Mentally and
12 Case study conducted at Dickoya, 2012 13 Interview with Yogeshwary Krishnan, Trade Union activist, 12/20/2011 14 Interview with Letchuman, father of two girl children and worker in the Dickoya estate, 12/23/2011 15 Kusumawathi Thilakarathna, Family welfare officer of Dickoya estate on 12/ 05/2011 International Journal of Arts and Commerce ISSN 1929-7106 physically weak children are unable to work hard on their studies16. See the following table for more
information. It comparatively demonstrates the greater level of backwardness of the plantation women in
relation to education.

Table 01: Sector wise Literacy Rate of the Group Aged 15-24 Years

Total (Both)
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Compiled Consumer Finance and Socio-Economic Survey Report, 2003/04
Plantation women and female children do not equally benefit from the facilities of education provided by the
government. At the same time, the higher level of illiteracy among them further contributes to their isolation
in the plantation areas.

32 years old women Sivakumary17, is a plantation worker who said: " our life depends on tea plantation
activities, we get nothing from the government facilities, we are working hard for the development of this
country by plucking tea, but there are no any notable improvement in our life in the last two hundred years,
even our children, we are not enjoying our rights and entitlements as other citizens do in the country, our
girl children undergo untold hardships due to the limited access to education and poor educational
attainments, a large number of young girls migrate from the estates to city area for employment in order to
look after their family for inadequate and unfair wage. I think poverty, poor wage and limited income are
the prime reasons for the discontinuation of education of women in the plantation sector".
The above statement very clearly reveals that the backwardness in the economy is one of the fundamental
reasons that prevent the plantation areas based women from enjoying the right to education
3.2. Health & Reproductive Rights
Women's rights to health are adversely affected in these areas. Maternal mortality and infant mortality rates for this sector are higher than national averages. According to the Consumer Finance and Socio-Economic survey of 2003/04, data shows that ill health female population (10.4%) is higher than ill health male population (9.8%) in the estate sector (CFSES, 2003/04). The following table further provides an aspect of health status in the estate sector. 16 Informal discussion with Shanthakumar, Estate Medical Assistant of Dickoya Estate on 12/05/2011 17 Tea plucker in the Bogwanthalawa estate who has four children of them three are women International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 Table:2 Health Status in the Estate Sector
Key areas
Weight & Size birth rate less than 2.5 31% Kg Low birth weight Under weight pregnant mothers Source: Nutrition and Food Security Assessment in Sri Lanka, Medical Research Institute of Ministry of Health Sri Lanka WFP and UNICEF March 2010) Women are provided with facilities to use contraceptives but are prevented from accessing services of family planning and their rights to bodily integrity and freedom of choice. This denial partly stems from a community perception of genocide; that is, they strongly believe in the idea that their population is being rapidly diminished. The individual woman's right to make choices and decisions over her reproductive rights has been fiercely disregarded by men in the community. Women are also prone to occupational health hazards. In spite of the existence of permanent and temporary methods of family planning, the government has enforced the former (permanent family planning) on the plantation sector. It is noted that female sterilization is much more prevalent in the plantation sector than at the national level. Women in the plantation sector are often compelled to undergo sterilization. Furthermore the conditions under which sterilization takes place tends to violate basic human and reproductive rights. It is usually done in open places or unhealthily estate dispensaries. Further, a large number of females are taken and brought back in Lorries18 for sterilization. These poorly educated plantation women are also been prevented from the right to information. These women are never informed about the advantages and disadvantages of committing sterilization. This is a violation of some of the international instruments which are recognized and ratified by the Sri Lankan government: Article 25th of UDHR19, Article 12th of ICESCR20 and Article 12 and Article 14 (b) of CEDAW21. Respondents of the study vehemently criticized the unacceptable family planning practices which prevail in the plantation. These family planning practices have been implemented by the Plantation Human Development Trust and the Estate Management since 199622. Sterilization has been taking place in the estate area covering neighboring estates. Officials in charge of the health affair of these people undertake a campaign in all divisions to convince women on the importance of permanent sterilization. Although various pressures and criticisms concerning permanent sterilization can be seen to be 18 The vehicle which carries tea leaves from the tea field to tea factory 19 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 20 International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights 21 Convention on Elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women 22 Records of the Welfare Officer, Dickoya Estate International Journal of Arts and Commerce ISSN 1929-7106 coming from the Civil Society activists, trade unionists, and politicians, it is still prevail at a higher level in
the estate sector than the other sectors in the country (see table 01).
3.4. Permanent Family Control
As a consequence of the internationally circulated debate on population and development after the 1960s the
government of Sri Lanka has introduced family planning methods in order to control the population growth.
These programs were implemented through Family Planning Association, family planning bureau, family
health bureau and population division. In the late 1980s, a number of NGOs engaged in family planning.
The Ten year plan (1959-1968) and Five year plan (1972-1976) were important policy initiatives that largely
focused on population control to enhance the process of national development. Currently, oral contraceptive
pills and injectables, IUDs, condoms, female sterilization and male sterilization have become popular
family planning methods. The following figure illustrates the consumption of contraceptive methods in Sri
Table: 02 Percent Distribution of currently married women by contraceptive method currently used,
according to background characteristics, Sri Lanka, 2006/07

Modern Method
Source: Demographic and Health Survey, 2006/07 According to the above table, both female and male sterilization can be seen at a higher level in the plantation sector when compared to other sectors. Further, the data reveals that the usage of modern methods such as male condoms, Pills, Norplant and injectables is comparatively low in the estate sector. However, promoting the above methods, there is a possibility to reduce harm which caused by permanent sterilization on women health. In other words, despite the greater number of the contraceptive methods which have already been promoted, there is a possibility of women's health being badly affected by permanent sterilization. Regional Plantation companies strategically propagate (to a greater or lesser extents) permanent family control methods since such methods indirectly help them to make the maximum profits out of the male/female labour by reducing the number of children. Because for each infant company has to pay certain amount of money. This has to be stressed as an instance of using governmental initiatives for economic benefits given that the profits are reduced when companies have to spend more money on social welfare, that is, the well-being of their workers. The calculated number of the working population in 1990 was 384168. By 2001, this number has been reduced to 273513. The current number of total workers, as it has been estimated, is 230,000. Thus is becomes clear the sole objective of the company policies has been to reduce the number of children in workers household in order use/exploit the labor of these people as much International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 as possible (Logeshwary & Bastian, 2008, Fontkallant, 1994). Plantation data indicate the profit of the company gained by reducing the number of the children. According to the report on Labour Economic in Tea by the Tea Research Institute of Talawakelle (2003, if a child was born in 1996 a company lost Rs.27 692/= which was Rs 44904/= in 2003. There are various other indirect profits to the companies through child reduction. For example, if the number of family members is reduces, the number of medical officers welfare officers in the plantation areas and can also be reduced. In 1978, the government declared the following concessions for permanent family control: Enhanced payment in respect of permanent birth control Necessary medical training. Special payment to the medical team responsible for every permanent birth control and surgery. Incentive payment and special leave privileges for those who volunteer for these treatments.
These facts greatly contributed to absorb more plantations in to the scheme.
Permanent sterilization is not the only possible means of Family Control. There are other alternative means
as well. While the temporary measures are encouraged in other sectors, in the plantation sector permanent
sterilization is being implemented and thus encouraged. Permanent sterilization in the plantation sector was
2.9% in 1975 and was increased to 40% by 1987. By 1997, the value has further increased to 80%.
Meanwhile, there is a gradual decrease in the temporary sterilization system. For example, the rate of the use
of temporary system was 83% between 1986 and 1999, and, was decreased to 10% in 1997 in the plantation
sector (Logeshwary & Bastian, 2008). According to 2006/07 demographic and health survey indicates,
female sterilization in the plantation sector was 41.1% and 15.9 and 13.1 in rural and urban sector
respectively. This shows that the permanent female sterilization is very high in the estate sector than other
sectors while there is a significant decrease in using the temporary contraceptive methods (Logeshwary &
Bastian, 2008)
3.5. Violence against women in the Plantation Sector
Violence against women in the plantation sector is a commonly visible phenomenon which is basically an
outcome of gender based violence. The term 'gender based violence' can be generally defined as a state
under which a person is made to a subject of a particular violent activity by another person./agency". Even
though this seems to be applicable to both men and women without any semantic alteration, day to day
realities suggest that in most cases women have become the usual victims of violence caused by men.
(Guneratne, 2007: 01). According the article 2 of the Vienna declaration on violence against women and the
article 01 of CEDAW, violence against women refers to any act of gender based violence that results in, or
is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such
acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life (Guneratna,
2007: 01).
Based on the empirical information which was collected during the focus group discussion conducted in
Dickoya, it could be justly assumed that, Sexual violence is extremely prevalent in the plantation areas.
Women are battered, raped, harassed and abused to a greater degree in these areas. In addition to that, there
are a growing number of cases of suicides, incest, alleged accidental household deaths and sexual violence.
Domestic violence or wife battery is relatively high in the plantation communities. Young girls who serve as
domestics are not only physically exploited but also they are often sexually abused and forced to return
home, having become a subject of unwanted pregnancy.
"A widow, Mrs. Kalaichchelvi, from Dickoya Estate with two children, had gone to Abu-dha-Bi, Middle
East on 17.11.1997 as a domestic servant due to poverty. She had not contacted her family for a
considerably long time since she had gone there. On 07.08.1999, her family had received a telegram

International Journal of Arts and Commerce ISSN 1929-7106 informing on Kalaichchelvi's death. After this message, the children wept bitterly and her body had been
sent to Sri Lanka, her coffin fully sealed, the children could not even see the body of the dead mother. The
children were had dreamt of their mother returning with lot of things but everything had suddenly changed.
Ultimately, her children become orphans and now depend on their uncle- brother of the father. The
government is responsible for her death as there is no guarantee of the life and safety of those who go
abroad for employment as migrant workers. The cause of death in the death certificate was "suicide". The
children, having failed to believe so, had questioned why their mothers attempted suicide given that she went
to help the of her family". (Information by a representative from a Civil Society Organization that works for
Women Rights in Hatton area)
Nevertheless, nature of civil, political, economic and sociocultural rights of the women workers in the
plantation sector deserves a special attention is this regard. The contribution made the plantation female
working community to the national economy is so importance that it cannot be disregarded in anysense. It is
not an exaggeration to say that, at least a certain extent; they are the backbone of the country's economy.
According to the ender-wise population surveys, plantation women accounts for 53% of the total workforce
in the country (Department of Census and Statistics, 2010). It is also noteworthy that a plantation women
worker works more than a male counterpart in terms of the number of hours worked per day. She gets up as
early as 3.00 am in the morning and engages in various kinds of household works such preparing the meals
for the rest of the family, feeding children and sending then to the school. She has to go to the working place
at around 6.00 am every day23.
In many cases women are not supported by men in their household tasks. One important fact that deserves
careful attention is that even in the household tasks, women have to help women, that is, female children are
supposed to help their mothers, but not the male ones. In cases the mother is unable to perform the usual
tasks at home, her daughter(s) has/have to work on behalf of her24. In the rubber plantation areas, both male
and female workers are engaged in tapping 350 to 400 trees per day and collecting latex. However, given the
amount of the work a women has to carry out at home, and the hours she spends restlessly on them, the
additional hard work she is expected to do in the field, makes her tired and sick more often (Samarasinghe,
Surprisingly, Women also engaged in applying chemical fertilizers. Instances where the protective are given
to them are rare with adverse consequences to their health condition. It was reported in the focus group
discussion that even pregnant women are reported to be engaged in applying these chemical fertilizers.
Some researches reveal that most of the existing forms of violence against women in the plantation sector
are physical violence, including beating and assault, pushing, dragging by hair and attacking with objects,
and sexual violence (Kiribamune, 1994, Sakunthala, 1991, Shifani & Seelagama, 2010)
While a tea plucking women worker has to carry the bags of leaves of about 20 kgs of weight which she has
plucked during the whole day to the weighting shed walking all the way25, in a rubber plantation area, a
taper woman has to carry the latex which is about 20litres of weight she has collected to the weighing shed.
Consequently, the women worker suffers from miscarriage, womb trouble and sometimes mental troubles.
23 Direct observation during the field survey 24 Focus group Discussion at the Bogawana Estate, Bogawanthalawa on 07/12/2012 25 In some estates it was observed during the field survey women pluckers have to carry and walk the tea leaf bags with 15-20 Kg of weight for three four Km to the weighting shed 20 International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 3. 6. Right to Wage for Labour
The wage inequality between men and women workers was removed in 1985, but it must also be noted that
the wage hike is not given to plantation workers by the national budget. Further, increasing wages does not
increase the cost of living. Since the re-privatization of the plantation in 1990s, the wage hike is granted to
plantation workers based on a wage Collective Agreement concluded between selected plantation trade
unions26 and the employee's federation. Although men and women are receiving equal wages, where the
longer hours worked by the women workers and the consequent loss of more energy are concerned, one
cannot assume that the wages earned by women workers are not adequate on practical grounds. This can be
seen as an indirect form of violation against her human rights.
Women in the plantation areas are engaged in night time works at the factories as well. Even though this
trend has not been challenged, special attention has to be paid to some other important factors: while
working, they must be supervised only by a female supervisor; there should be a rest room and social
amenities; and they must be provided with the travelling facilities to return home after work. But, these
measures are not available to plantation women workers. As a result, women have to encounter various
sexual and physical harassments27. In other words, international labour rights are not guaranteed during
night time shifts in almost all factories. Sometime's the officials of the estate ask women workers to perform
their personal works since the working class women are not powerful to challenge their decisions.
If a woman takes even five to ten minutes more than one hour given to her for lunch, she is not tolerated.
Invariably, the estate authorities misuse legal regulations in order to chase them away. Since time of re-
privatization, companies appear to have not been granting sufficient leaves for feeding mothers to take care
of their babies.
Health care facilities available to plantation workers are not satisfactory with regard to the workers of other
sectors. Health care system has not been absorbed into the mainstream. Even in the time where the British
companies owned the plantation transactions, each and every estate had a dispensary with a maternity ward
facilities and dispenser (Logeshwary & Bastian, 2008). CEDAW guarantied the women workers rights and
Sri Lanka also ratified the convention. But in the plantation areas, rights of the women workers are facing
critical challenges. i.e. Plantation women workers do not have their basic health facilities such as sanitary
facilities (water, toilet). With the takeover of plantations by the governments in the 1970s, the tradition of
having a separate dispensary for each estate vanished. Two or three estates were combined into one unit
based on the argument that it was done in order to reduce the cost of maintenance28.
It must be noted in this regard that these changes have not contributed to improve the system at all. An
Estate Medical Assistant (EMA) who until then had to be in charge of one estate, had been
compelled to be in charge of a larger unit with a larger number of workers. Pregnant women do not have the
facility of attending prenatal, antenatal clinics or having regular checkups. This is because the EMAs are not
qualified enough to conduct such clinics. At the same time, there were no ample physical resources to
undertake such clinics.
Plantation women, women workers in the Free Trade Zone and migrant women workers play significant roles in the country's foreign exchange operations. The plantation women population is provided with the minimum wages among these three categories – even less than rural women who do odd jobs on a daily basis. It has now become commonsensical to assume that the plantation women workers have a regular income. However, they not paid based on the amount of the work and the number of hours worked in the 26 Only three trade unions involves in bargaining salary hike of the workers and signing collective agreement, these trade unions are not representing the aspirations of the entire workers 27 Focus group discussion at Wanarajah Estate with women workers on 07/12/2012 28 Ibid International Journal of Arts and Commerce ISSN 1929-7106 fields. Simply, it would not be incorrect to argue that the valuable labour of plantation women works is often underestimated as "cheap labour"29. As per the collective agreement of 2011, the basic daily wage is Rs 385/= on which EPF and ETF are computed, plus a daily price wage share supplement of Rs 30/= and a daily attendance incentive of Rs 90/= (i.e) if the out turn is or over 75% of the No. of days work offered. A notable factor is that the attendance incentive and the daily price share supplement are not included in the fringe benefits, and, even if they work on Sundays and other holidays they are not paid attendance incentive30. Generally, women form the major component of the plantation worker population and in a tea plantation where plucking leaf is the major function to be performed. In the collective agreement it is mentioned that the daily plucking norm is variable in consultation with the state committee. In fixing this norm, the women puckers are not consulted. It is done at the discretion of the committee leader who always happens to be a male. Although the majority of the subscribers to the unions are female, when it comes the decision making processes, women are always likely to be ignored31. Likewise, even during the election times, certain initiatives can be seen as confining the role of women to specific political parties. Indeed, due to the household commitments and works, plantation women do not have ample knowledge on elections, political parties or its importance. They very often ignore franchise rights and go for work or engage in other sort of activities in the Election Day. Even though some women are interested in politics, males largely prevent them from doing what they want to do. Indeed, cultural barriers and male domination in the community are highly preventing active participation of women in politics and other social activities. Furthermore, conflict occurs when women cast their vote to a candidate to whom her husband or brother does not vote. In such contexts, women encounter problems within the family such as chase out from home, harassment, verbal abuse and so on32. There is another clause (3) in the collective agreement according to which "neither party shall in any manner add or attempt to add to, vary or alter this remuneration package or any of the direct monetary payments currently applicable to the employees"33. A Collective Agreement, once signed, is in operation for 3 years, but there is no guarantee that during these 3 year period ,there will be no increase in the cost of living. 4. Conclusion
This study is an attempt to assess/inquire the nature of rights of women in the plantation sector. Some of the
statements and case studies that were used during field survey revealed various forms of women rights
violations and discriminations against plantation women. It was found in the study that right to health, right
to education, reproductive rights, and civil, political and economic rights of the plantation women have been
violated in many forms. Notably, the lack of educational attainments, chronic poverty, limited of access to
29 Sivakumar, (29 years old) teacher of Dickoya Tamil Vidyalaya, whose mother still works in the tea estate expressed his views anxiously 30 Abstracted from the newly signed 2011 collective agreement 31 It was found in the field survey that approximately 60% of women are the subscribers in the trade unions in the plantation but they are not given top level decision making positions and decision making is confined to male in an undemocratic manner. Most probably male take decisions on issues affect women at the liquor Shops, toddy tavarene and so on 32 Kumarakody, youth, 28 years of old, works for a NGO brought out this issue at a focus group discussion took place in Bogawanthalawa Estate 33 Abstracted from the collective agreement of 2009 International Journal of Arts and Commerce Vol. 2 No. 7 July 2013 health services, lack of social mobility, limited of access to legal protection mechanism, trade union politics,
rigid and cruel regulation of estate management are significant factors that largely influence on women
rights violation in the Plantation sector. Especially, the deep rooted patriarchal cultural values in the estate
sector are visible as major factors which cause many forms of violence against women at domestic, work
place and at societal levels. Therefore, government, trade unions, and civil society organizations should take
appropriate measures to empower and educate plantation women to improve their social position. Further, as
the present study suggests, although there are a number of governmental and Non- governmental institution's
involvements to protect rights of the plantation women, many among them are focusing largely on women
and neglecting men. Nevertheless, men also should be educated on the rights of women to uplift the status of
women in the plantation sector.
5. References
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